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Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Mar.22
The Desperate Hour
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Phillip Noyce
scr Christopher Sparling
prd Andrew Corkin, Christopher Sparling, Alex Lalonde, Zack Schiller, David Boies
with Naomi Watts, Colton Gobbo, Sierra Maltby, Andrew Chown, Michelle Johnston, Woodrow Schreiber, Debra Wilson, David Reale, Jason Clarke, Jacqueline King Schiller, Chris Marren
release US 25.Feb.22
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Frantic pacing adds a sense of urgency to this contained thriller, as the film maintains the limited perspective of the central character, played with full-on emotion by Naomi Watts. As a result, a breathless urgency runs all the way through the story. Veteran director Philip Noyce makes the most of the woodland setting, using evocative camerawork and editing to spice up a narrative that's gripping but also cliched.
Haunted by memories of a tragedy, Amy (Watts) uses mindfulness to cope while taking care of her angry teen son Noah (Gobbo) and perky younger daughter Emily (Maltby). On a personal day off, Amy is taking a long run in the woods, trying to get some peace amid a constant barrage of phone calls. Then she gets an official alert that the area schools are on lockdown due to a major incident at the high school. In a panic, she races back toward town. And along the way, she gets a couple of heart-stopping calls.
Because it's the only way the narrative can unfold, Amy's phone is implausibly hyperactive, with supernatural battery life. She never stops taking or receiving calls, seeking information while being constantly distracted by incoming queries. She also continually checks the news feeds, struggling to take in the reality of what is happening so far away from where she is. The echoing question is not just whether her son is alive, but if he might be responsible for what's happening.
With the camera only on her, Watts delivers a raw, wrenching performance as a desperate mother grappling with past trauma and a difficult relationship with her son as she tries to find out if he's okay. Out of breath as she runs along roads and paths through the trees, her tenacity adds a thrilling resonance, even as it feels somewhat heightened cinematically. Gobbo and Maltby are only briefly introduced, although Gobbo gets a strong final sequence. Other cast members provide mostly helpful voices down the line.
Screenwriter Sparling piles so much into the script that it's difficult to identify with Amy's ordeal. She is juggling so many enormous issues at the same time that central themes are tricky to find within the rather preachy swirl of grief, fear, anger, guilt, frustration and panic. And there are also several somewhat corny twists, such as the way she solves the entire case while running through a forest. Still, as a one-woman tour de force for Watts, this is definitely worth a look.
Echoes of the Past
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Nicholas Dimitropoulos
scr Dimitrios Katsantonis
prd Stelios Kotionis, Dimitrios Katsantonis
with Max von Sydow, Astrid Roos, Danae Skiadi, Nikolas Papagiannis, Maximos Livieratos, Tasos Karlis, Martin Laer, Alice Krige, Tomas Arana, Yorgo Voyagis, Prometheus Aleifer, Marlene Kaminsky
release Gr 1.Dec.21,
Is it streaming?
A fictionalised story based on real events from World War II, this Greek drama skilfully recreates historical scenes as seen through the eyes of a firsthand witness. The final performance of an ethereal, magnetic Max von Sydow is adds emotional weight to an account of one of the Nazis' most hideous wartime atrocities. So if the film doesn't feel particularly original, there are still many reasons to embrace it.
When Greece sues Germany for reparations relating to the 1943 Kalavryta Massacre, lawyer Caroline (Roos) travels from Berlin to investigate. She meets the ageing Nikolas (von Sydow), who survived the events as a young boy (Livieratos). Babk then, his parents (Skiadi and Papagiannis) and older brother (Karlis) are caught up in rising tensions as German officer Tenner (Laer) moves into their home. Then after the resistance strikes back, Tenner is ordered to retaliate by coldly executing all the men, then setting the village on fire. The Germans try to kill the women and children too.
What happened here is utterly unthinkable, so telling these stories is important for the collective memory. Structurally, the film cuts back and forth a bit randomly between the present day and 1943. Essentially, Caroline's research offers some framing to more extensive scenes in the past, most of which feature incidents watched carefully by the young Nikolas. Tnen as he recalls these things in his old age, he speaks of his lifelong search for closure, so Caroline continues her work in an effort to help him get there.
With his strong presence emerging through quietly spoken dialog, Von Sydow conveys a powerful sense of a lifetime haunted by these experiences. He adds gravity to the entire movie, even with relatively little screen time compared to the actors in the period sequences. They all give nicely understated performances as complex people living through a nightmare. The standout is Skiadi, who brings a particularly steely attitude that gives the film an emotional core. And Krige is luminous in a late sequence.
All of this feels vaguely familiar, echoing other films that tell stories based on newly uncovered evidence of past horrors. Even with the passage of many decades, the perpetrators shoundn't get away with their crimes. These filmmakers certainly don't hold back in depicting the grotesque violence, thankfully without dwelling on it. It's a strikingly well-made film, and it carries an important message that remembering is more important than paying money to make things better. And true justice isn't limited by time.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Marcus Harben
prd Tracy Jarvis, Giles Alderson, Steve Jarvis
with Harry Jarvis, Loreece Harrison, Daniel Cahill, Erin Austen, Nina Wadia, Orion Lee, Tanya Burr, Dom Watters, Alex James-Phelps, Jessica Webber, Ella Jarvis, Poppy Roe
release UK 18.Mar.22
Is it streaming?
With snappy visuals, this comical British thriller plays with a range of video styles while recounting a story about students who encounter something terrifying. Thankfully, writer-director Marcus Harben avoids the usual limits of found-footage horror by varying the approach and making the most of his attractive young cast. This holds the audience's attention through to the crazed finale, even if the story is thin and the suspense somewhat underpowered.
At 19, university student Jonty (Jarvis) wants to be an influencer with a million followers. His housemates are Zauna (Harrison), an aspiring filmmaker documenting Jonty's quest, plus blunt tough guy Pete (Cahill) and Insta-ready Amber (Austen). There's also a creepy guy (Watters) living in the basement. And apparently an angry ghost, which Jonty shamelessly uses to boost his count. After several of his pranks backfire, he sets out to prove that the haunting is real. And after an initial blip, some sponsorship gives the housemates a boost to liven up their video feed.
While the plot waits far too long to play its inventive trump card, the filmmaking is lively and often surprising. And the four central characters have enjoyable edges to them that keep things interesting. The movie never even remotely gets underneath Jonty's desperation for fame, while his pursuit of Amber is surprisingly slimy, even if she is clearly only in it because they're a photogenic couple. Meanwhile, the hotheaded Pete provides fireworks that the freak-out effects and bonkers set-pieces never quite muster, with one gleefully nasty exception.
Energetic and very watchable, lead actors Jarvis, Harrison, Austen and Cahill are best in the looser improv-style scenes, bantering back and forth about their rather heightened situation while revealing some intriguing relational textures between them. So the more explosive craziness is fun to watch. On the other hand, they struggle in the more plot-based moments, with rather stiff dialog that feels like it's coming from a screenwriter rather than the characters. Skilled veterans like Wadia (as the housemother) and Lee (as an exploitative TV host) add some edge.
With its uneven pacing and initially underwhelming horror elements, it's doubtful that this will become a classic. But there's more to the film than expected, with several intriguing thematic textures woven in along the way. This includes the talented-but-sidelined Black filmmaker Zauna noting that Jonty will have no trouble becoming successful since he's already rich, beautiful and white. And there are also knowing references to the wishy-washy nature of social media fans. And Although Harben seems more interested in witty thrills.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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